The American robin (Turdus migratorius) is a familiar sight on lawns across the country, but have you ever wondered whether young American robins are born with the iconic red breast?
Or if not, how long does it take for a juvenile American robin to develop the red and black feathers that make adult robins instantly recognizable?
Read our guide to find out all about the development of American robins from hatchlings to fully grown birds.
Baby American robins are born featherless, with a small covering of fluffy white down. They are blind at birth and their skin is nearly transparent. At this stage, there are no visual clues that these tiny, near-naked chicks will develop into the red-breasted songbird we all know so well.
Robin chicks are born undeveloped (alricial), and are covered in a fine white down, which darkens to gray in the first few days of life. The earliest traces of dark feathers are visible under their translucent skin and from birth, their bills are the bright yellow associated with adult American robins.
Within the first few days of hatching, American robin chicks have already started to compete with their fellow nestlings to hold up their heads and beg for food when they hear either of the parent birds returning to deliver food. The chicks’ eyes remain closed until around day five.
A one day old American Robin hatchling in the nest
Within the first two weeks of life, baby American robins grow rapidly to reach the size of adult birds. They shed their initial downy covering and undergo some major changes in just a short period of time which prepare them for leaving the nest and embarking on the first steps towards independence.
As American robin hatchlings reach the five-day mark, not only have their eyes opened for the first time, but their juvenile plumage will have started to grow out. With these first feathers, called pin feathers, they now start to look more robin-like, with the charcoal black plumage initially developing on their heads, backs, and wings.
By day 14, young American robins are completely covered in feathers, with their chests taking on the red-orange tinge that will darken with age. Their upper breasts are mostly white, speckled with dark brown spots, with the orange underparts visible lower on their bellies.
A recently fledged American Robin chick
Immediately after hatching, baby American robins are tiny and undeveloped. They do, however, grow rapidly in the two weeks after hatching, and by the time they leave the nest at around 13 to 14 days, they are the same size as fully grown adult birds.
On hatching, a baby American robin weighs a tiny 5.5 g (0.2 oz).
By the time they gain independence, juvenile American robins have started to clearly resemble the adults of the species, although the spotted markings persist on their bellies, throats and throughout their wings. The distinctive orange-red belly and breast are starting to show through, although the mottled brown markings and pale breast feathers remain until they reach maturity.
Towards the end of their first year, it becomes harder to distinguish juvenile American robins from adult birds. Some streaky plumage remains in yearlings and younger birds tend not to be as bright in color.
Close up of a perched juvenile American robin
Like the young of many birds, baby American robins are known as chicks. Immediately after emerging from their eggs, they are known as hatchlings. Until they are ready to fledge, they are known as nestlings, and once they are sufficiently developed and ready to leave the nest, they are called fledglings.
In the first few days of life, baby American robins are fed regurgitated food provided by their parents, including partially digested insects, beetles, larvae, worms, and seeds.
Within the first week, larger food items are presented to the chicks, including parts of worms and larvae, carefully dissected by their parents. As the nestlings prepare to fledge, they graduate to eating entire worms, beetles, and grubs, mastering the art of digesting them on their own.
Up to 30 percent of the early diet of a young American robin consists of plant matter, including seeds and berries.
Close up of an American robin feeding young chicks worms in the nest
Baby American robins are fed regurgitated food by both parents for the first four days of life. After this, they quickly progress onto more solid foods, with the male and female bringing soft, easily digested foods, such as parts of earthworms and grubs.
Once American robin chicks have hatched, both parents are needed to keep up with the feeding demands of their young. The feeding marathon that ensues between hatching and fledging is intense, to say the least, with around 35 to 40 feedings per chick per day.
By the time young American robins are ready to fledge at 14 days, each parent will have brought around 1.45 kg of food to the nest.
American Robin feeding chicks
American robin eggs are bright blue, and are smooth and plain, with no streaks or other markings on their surfaces. They are roughly 2.4 cm (0.9 in) in length.
Four American robin eggs inside the nest
The incubation period of American robin eggs is 13 to 14 days. Only the female American robin sits on the eggs.
It’s most common for American robins to lay between 2 and 4 eggs in a clutch, and on average two to three clutches each year.
Young American robin chicks with feathers starting to develop
American robins lay their first clutch of eggs in April. They commonly have two or three broods in a season, although it is not unheard of for a fourth brood to be raised. In cases where there are multiple broods, the final clutch will be laid in July or even early August.
After around 13 days, the nestlings are ready to fledge. For three further weeks, the chicks continue to be cared for on the ground by both parents. In many cases the female American robin has already started incubating another clutch of eggs, so care of newly fledged chicks is undertaken solely by the male.
Do you have a question about this topic that we haven't answered? Submit it below, and one of our experts will answer as soon as they can.
Get the latest BirdFacts delivered straight to your inbox